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  • Daniel Kephart

Meta-Organizing: The Secret Key to Efficiency

It's 4:37 P.M. on a Thursday afternoon. You're done with most of your work. There's another couple projects that need tackling, but they're big ones...too big too even really get started on in the twenty-three minutes between now and the end of the work day.

So, unsure of what to do and rather unsatisfied, you click around on Facebook or stare at the inbox of your email for the three-hundreth time that day.

And something tugs at the back of your head saying, "is this really my whole life? Just staring at a screen, not sure what I'm supposed to be doing? Just watching time tick by?"

Not a pleasant thought.

Worse still is the reality, because no life can truly exist in disorganization. Biology doesn't jive well with anarchy, so we're continually seeking direction and focus in our life. Which suggests that if you don't take the time to organize your day someone else will do it for you. Which, ultimately, means that you're dependent on the benevolence of whatever person or organization is organizing your life for you. A risky bet, at best.

So, you need to get organized. But how?

Well, let's start where you and I spend most of our time: Our smartphone.

For the past five-years or so, I just treated my smartphone as a sort of extension of myself.

That in itself isn't great, for reasons that you can read about here.

About a month ago, though, it occurred to me that this was quite a foolish way to look at my phone. After all, as the picture above shows, cell phones are an incredibly complicated piece of machinery. So, in other words, it dawned on my that my phone was quite literally a tool. Or, perhaps more accurately, my phone was a system of tools.

If you've ever spent much time around a craftsman (I certainly am not one), you know that they really master organizing their tools in such a way as to make it easy to access the right tool for the job.

Given that the smartphone is really no different than a high-tech toolbox, then, it makes sense to start by organizing it to be the most efficient toolbox it can be. So I tried this out, with the goal of fitting every app I used frequently on my homescreen.

As I did this, though, I learned that there were a great many apps on my phone that I wasn't using--because they were useless tools given my current situation in life. What's more, I learned that there were some tools I was missing that would be extremely useful if I had access to them.

In particular, I realized that I needed an easy-to-use schedule app to help me keep track of things. After some searching, I landed on Mi

crosoft To-Do, a list-making app with a reminder function that would help me both prioritize and remember some of my commitments.

Once I found that app, though, I learned that I could integrate it with my business email via Microsoft Outlook. Once I'd done that, however, I realized that my email was an absolute trainwreck. So, over the course of half-an-hour or so, I reconfigured my email so that it would be as useful to me throughout the day as it possibly could be.

Once I'd done that, however, I realized that my computer's file-system didn't really line up with my goals. None of the files on my phone were organized and, while I'd worked to do some basic organization with my PC's files, I had no real easy way of accessing them on my phone without emailing them to myself, which felt clumsy.

So, I rebuilt my file system from the bottom up. This time, though, I did it in Microsoft OneDrive, a cloud system that would sync with both my To-Do list and my monthly schedule on Outlook.

And all of this happened simply because I wanted to optimize the home-screen of my phone.

That's meta-organization. It's not organizing the parts of life individually, per se, so much as it is organizing the tools you use to organize your life. Once you start doing that, though, it places you on a journey where you know where you're headed, even if only in a limited sense.

It's an enduring pleasure, too, to utilize a really well-organized set of tools. Far from feeling enslaved to my system, needing to pour extra time into maintaining it, I feel liberated knowing I have a structure within which to work each day.

And, when faced with those last twenty-minutes before work ends, I'm able to identify exactly what small things I haven't done that I could still do in order to progress towards my goals.

And that, I think, is what efficiency really is--not knowing how to do something quickly, exactly, so much as knowing exactly what needs to be done that is within your power.

And that's a pretty good feeling.

Be a meta-organizer.